A friend of mine slept through a robbery in his own home.
His wife wasn’t so comatose. In fact, when the man entered their bedroom, she immediately began chasing him down the hall. With this lady on his tail, he didn’t steal much but trouble. Meanwhile, back in the sack, my friend snored away, totally oblivious to the whole ordeal.
The day of the Lord will also come like a thief in the night. Are you ready?
Now brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 1 Th. 5:1-3
Notice the word—suddenly!
He will come while people are saying, "Peace and safety." In other words, life will be going on as normal, with no particular reason to be alarmed. But then, all of a sudden, destruction will come.
Years ago, my mother’s childhood home was freshly painted. All the older members of the family had worked so hard on it. Now, they would just do a little cleanup and then they would be able to enjoy the new look. But, suddenly, the room burst into flame. In a matter of a few moments everything was destroyed.
When God’s day of judgment comes, most people will rise from bed as on any other day, go to work or school, eat their meals, speak to their friends, etc., just as they have always done. A regular day is precisely the kind of day God will come in judgment. Don’t expect someone to announce, "Everyone will now need to prepare for the Day of Judgment. You have forty-eight hours to get right with God." We don’t know the date or the times when destruction will come—we only know that it is destined to happen, and suddenly.
The other day I saw a news report of a woman who gave birth to her baby in the car on the way to the hospital. All of a sudden the birth pains came. Here was this frantic dad trying to get to the doctor in the speed of light while simultaneously telling his wife to hold it in. "Holding it in" didn’t work. When the birth pains come, the baby follows. God’s day of judgment will come suddenly, just like that.
But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 1 Th. 5:4-6
The day of the Lord will come as a thief, that is, suddenly. But it shouldn’t surprise you like a thief. That is, the day of the Lord should not catch any true Christian unaware or off guard as if you were unprepared. You are not like those who sleep, if you are a true believer, but like those who are "sons of the day." True believers, therefore, should be "alert and self-controlled," fully anticipating such a day of God’s wrath and indignation on the world.
For one thing, God has not appointed authentic believers to receive that wrath. "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ," the writer goes on to say. 1 Th. 5:9
I’m not able to predict what means God might use to deliver you from that wrath. But we do know this: no Christian will incur the wrath of God.
You may go through all kinds of physical pain even to the point of death, but it will not be punitive for the believer. For believers, death is the turnstile into God’s presence. Or, you may be transported out of it all, without even the smell of smoke. Destruction or death for the non-believer, on the other hand, will always lead to eternal hell, whenever it comes.
Are you one who thinks you can quickly work things out with God as soon as you see trouble is brewing? Then the main point of this passage is directed toward you. The day will come so suddenly that you will not be able to do anything to alter your destiny. If you go into this time as an unbeliever, don’t expect the slightest opportunity to remedy that situation once judgment comes.
But there is hope!
The author Paul says, "He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep [here he means, alive or dead], we may live together with him." 1 Th. 5:10
Christ’s death on the cross is the one means by which you may escape the penalty for sins you deserve. When Christ went to the cross, He did so in order to bear sins and take on Himself God’s wrath for people like you as a substitute. Because of that loving, sacrificial act, you may escape the just penalty of your sins and live forever with Him—the deliverance promised to anyone who puts his or her trust in the Rescuer.
And then suddenly is no longer a frightening word.